The Five Best and Worst School Choice Moments of 2015
1. Nevada enacted two educational choice programs.
We predicted in 2014 that Nevada would be the state “most likely to succeed” in becoming a new school choice state in 2015. We were right, but Nevada’s success far exceeded our expectations. The state passed not one, but two educational choice programs. It became the 26th school choice state with its tax-credit scholarship program. Shortly thereafter, it enacted the nation’s 57th school choice program, a game-changing, nearly-universal education savings account (ESA) program.
Ninety-six percent of Nevada students are eligible for ESAs with up to $5,700 in funding. More than half of the state’s students will be eligible to receive funding through the tax-credit scholarship program, which has a maximum scholarship value at $7,775.
Keep an eye on our real-time updates on Nevada’s progress by checking back to our blog, signing up for our email updates at the bottom of this page, and/or following us on Twitter @edchoice.
2. North Carolina school vouchers were ruled constitutional.
The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program in July 2015. The educational freedom of the more than 1,900 low-income families using the school voucher program is now secure. The average voucher value is projected to be $4,018 for 2015–16 participants. Learn more about the details of the legal battle for North Carolina’s school vouchers by reading this article.
3. Arkansas passed the Succeed Scholarship Program.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson made Arkansas the 25th state to create a school choice program when he enacted the Arkansas Succeed Scholarship Program in April 2015. This program, the 52nd in the nation, was created especially to help students with special needs access the educational options that best fit their needs. It will be available for families to use beginning in 2016. Only 13 percent of students statewide are eligible to participate in the program. To learn more about eligibility, funding, regulations, and more, check out our Arkansas Succeed Scholarship Program page here.
4. Mississippi created an ESA for students with special needs.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed Mississippi’s new ESA program into law in April 2015, bringing to life the nation’s 54th school choice program and third ESA. In the short time since its launch, 275 students have already participated in the program, which has an annual award value of $6,500. Students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are eligible to participate in the program, which allows parents to direct educational dollars in a customized way. Find out more about this program here, and hear from one of the families behind the fight for educational freedom in Mississippi here.
5. Alabama school choice programs were ruled constitutional.
In a nearly unanimous decision in March 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the decision of a lower court that would have terminated the state’s two school choice programs, both of which are part of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013. Though only about 3 percent of Alabama families are eligible to participate in the refundable tax credit program and only a few thousand children participate in the tax-credit scholarship program—this court decision clears and secures a path for more expansive educational choice in the state. Roll tide!
1. Two lawsuits were brought against Nevada’s ESAs.
In spite of the thousands of pre-applications submitted for Nevada’s ESA, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLUNV) filed a lawsuit against the program in August. ACLUNV filed the lawsuit citing that the ESA may allow parents to use state funding for a “sectarian purpose,” which they say would violate the state’s Blaine amendment. In October, we filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Nevada.
The second case, Lopez v. Schwartz, has been brought against the program by a group called Educate Nevada Now!, a partner organization of the Education Law Center from New Jersey. This lawsuit is more complex, as it concerns Nevada’s education funding formula.
As of December 2015, parents have submitted 4,100 pre-applications for the state’s ESAs. To stay up to date on the litigation threatening so many Nevada families, check back to our blog, sign up for our email updates at the bottom of this page, and follow us on Twitter @edchoice.
2. Douglas County, Colorado school vouchers were declared unconstitutional.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program unconstitutional in June 2015. The decision was certainly not in the best interest of Douglas County students; however, it has set in motion a landmark case. Douglas County leaders filed a writ of certiorati in November, which is the first step in taking the Douglas County school voucher case to the Supreme Court of the United States. Since then, nine amicus briefs, including ours, have been filed in support of Douglas County’s pilot voucher program. If the Supreme Court takes the case, the ruling could potentially affect Blaine amendments in 37 states. Learn more about this case on our blog here, and get real-time updates by following us on Twitter @edchoice.
3. Montana’s governor vetoed a special needs ESA.
Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana vetoed a bill that would have created an ESA program for students with special needs in May 2015. The governor cited several objections to the bill, but generally concluded that ESAs for students with special needs is “simply not good policy.” The program would have made children identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), foster children, and children of active duty military members or military members killed in the line of duty eligible for more flexible educational options. To learn more, read our rundown of the bill.
4. Montana excluded religious schools from its new tax-credit scholarship program.
In Montana’s favor, last spring the state enacted a universal tax-credit scholarship program, which is the good news. Montana was the 27th state to join the school choice family, enacting the nation’s 55th program. The program has universal eligibility, but some regulations limit how much people can donate to scholarship granting organizations. The bad news is, in December, the Montana Department of Revenue adopted program rules that exclude religious schools from accepting the tax-credit scholarship funds.
5. Virginia failed to pass an ESA for students with special needs.
Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Ralph Northham voted “no” to break an 18-18 tie in the vote for a new ESA program that would benefit students with special needs in February 2015. The program could have allowed for flexible educational options for students with special needs.